While traveling, you end up doing many things that are exciting and fun only in recollection. After the wounds have been licked shut and the pain in your lungs does not feel like a knife through the chest anymore - only then can you say with a straight face that you would do it all over again.
In Bolivia, having just cycled the famous Death Road, we were not exactly in the lets-do-it-again mood. Still, the adrenalin of hurtling down a steep mountain road dotted by shrines commemorating those who fell off the perilous path, with nothing but the brakes of our rental bikes to stop us from going over the edge of a cliff and into the harrowing depths of a canyon swimming in murky clouds was still with us, as were our sore muscles, bruised bottoms, and the soaking wet shoes. In retrospect, all that could have been more or less bearable and fixable if only we did not decide to tackle a nearby 6,088m peak the very next day.
Originally, we didn't plan to do any extreme climbing until Kilimanjaro in Africa (5,895m high), but when we heard that Huayna Potosi, a 6,088m mountain near La Paz, takes only three days and requires no experience, we were hooked. Actually, to both our surprise, I was even more enthusiastic than my husband Alex. I don't know what got into me, but I kept thinking about the ice axe and crampons that we would get to use, and how cool would it be to conquer a 6,088m summit. I was like a little girl about to use her new tea-set for the very first time.
Alex was not against climbing either. He did keep asking me over and over if I was sure, surprised I felt so passionate about such a demanding physical task, but the fact that this would be an extremely cool experience that would cost us less then Kilimanjaro, eventually won both of us over, and we booked a guide to lead us up the day after we did the Death Road. If only we knew how we would feel after finally getting off our bikes, we might have taken a day off to take it easy for twenty four hours. Alas, the trip was booked, and we were not the only people in the group going up; so we wore plastic bags over our spare socks, put on our still soaking wet shoes, and set off for the mountain.
In the van to the first of two camps we met the third member of our expedition. Julian was a 22 year-old Frenchman who traveled whenever possible and always in the most extreme of ways. Since neither of us had any experience in ice climbing, the original plan was to get to the first camp (4700m) by car, and spend the day on a nearby glacier practicing technical skills for our two day climb to the peak.
Next, we would spend the night at the same place, and the next morning head out to high camp. There we would eat lunch and go to sleep at about 5pm in order to wake up at about midnight and climb in the dark for the next seven hours to the peak. The reason the final climb is done at night is because it is now summer time here, and the hot Bolivian summer sun softens the snow and increases the risk of an avalanche. Unfortunately, when we reached the camp, the weather was already so bad that a group of men we met coming back from high camp said they didn't even attempt the peak since the risk of an avalanche was too great.